Tarantula spiders are among the most feared animals on the planet, and with good reason. Not only are they giants, as spiders go, but they are such stealthy and skilled hunters that no small animal that wanders within their grasp stands a chance at survival. The typical hunting modus operandi for tarantulas is to be patient. They lie in wait for a hapless passerby and then pounce without warning. Because of their size, they can reach 5 inches in length with a 12-inch leg span; tarantulas are able to quickly subdue their prey and crush them with their large fangs. Finally, they shower their victim's body with digestive juices and then lap up the resulting fluid. Delicious!
The most fearsome animal in all Africa may well be the black mamba, the giant venomous snake found throughout the southeastern portion of the continent. It gets its name from the black skin on the inside of its mouth, which it displays just before it strikes. These animals are usually quite shy, but can be extremely aggressive when confronted. When they do attack, they tend to strike their victims repeatedly, releasing a lethal mix of neurotoxin and cardiotoxin. In the past, a bite from a black mamba was 100 percent fatal. Now, that figure is decreasing due to the increased use of anti-venom throughout the continent.
Of all the fish in all the world's waters, the piranha may have the worst reputation. One look at this predator's slicing teeth and powerful jaws is enough to send chills up the spine. Known worldwide for its aggressive predatory feeding behavior, the piranha is found throughout the fresh waters of South America. They typically feed at dawn and dusk, lurking in the water and waiting for a small animal to pass by. Then, without warning, they attack and devour their prey with ferocity unparalleled in freshwater communities. In some cases, they will form hunting groups in order to take down much larger prey, including horses, capybaras or even humans.
Most of the world's top predators are strict loners, preferring to rely on their own prowess to bring down prey. But to the gray wolf, the success of the hunt depends on cooperation among many. A typical wolf attack begins with members of the pack working together to encourage their victim to run. Not only is a lone animal easier to bring down than one that is in a herd, but a running animal poses less of a threat than one that is poised to fight. Then, the alpha male leads the chase, with his alpha female close behind. Once their victim stumbles and falls to the ground, the pack surrounds the animal and goes in for the kill.
The largest of all lizards, the Komodo dragon is a mighty reptile that weighs up to 300 pounds and can reach a length of more than 10 feet. This animal takes our No. 6 spot for having multiple predatory advantages: speed, strength and the tenacity to bring down prey species twice its size. They also have a toxic bite; any victim that survives a Komodo dragon attack is likely to succumb to their wounds soon after. Komodos mainly hunt by ambushing their prey, but they are also fast runners and good swimmers. What's more, their incredible predatory skills are matched by an equally impressive ability to consume meat, up to half their own body weight in a single meal.
There is nothing more frightening than a predator that lurks underwater for its prey, camouflaged by the surrounding environment, silently watching its victim and planning its kill. No. 5 in our countdown is the crocodile, a stealthy and extremely violent predator. With long, powerful jaws and teeth, the crocodile preys on a variety of animals. Some species, such as the Nile crocodile, can bring down very large prey such as zebras and buffalo. Its typical mode of attack is to wait at the water's edge for an animal to come to drink and then drag the hapless creature underwater and begin spinning around forcefully and repeatedly in order to tear off chunks of flesh.
As the name suggests, the killer whale is a deadly predator, combining remarkable skill with awesome physical power. Orcas have a number of ingenious techniques in their hunting arsenal, giving them one of the most diverse diets of all aquatic predators. For example, they are fond of knocking seals and penguins from ice floes in order to seize them as they fall into the water. They have also been known to intentionally beach themselves in order to reach seals onshore. Highly social animals, killer whales tend to live in pods made up of dozens of individuals working cooperatively to snag prey. Some have even been known to successfully prey on great white sharks.
The grizzly bear, also known as the brown bear, is probably the most feared animal in North America. This powerful predatory animal can stand 7 feet tall and weigh more than 800 pounds. Its strong limbs and huge paws can kill a man in a single swipe, and its powerful crushing jaws allow it to feed on a variety of foods, including large mammals. Grizzlies are also strong swimmers and fast runners. Coming face to face with this animal in the wild can be a harrowing experience, but the best response is to stand tall and resist the urge to run. These animals have been clocked at more than 40 miles per hour, and running away from them can trigger their chase response.
and for good reason. Lions hunt some of the largest prey on Earth, including buffalo and wildebeest. Part of their terrific success as predators comes from the fact that they cooperate in their kills. Lions live in social groups called prides, and all members work together in the hunt. Young lions learn their place in the pride early in life by play-fighting, which teaches them the skills they'll need for the hunt and determines what role they are most suited to perform. Lions' hunting success rate is only about one in five, but those odds are impressive when you consider that their prey species are massive creatures with plenty of fighting power of their own.
Any animal that has the misfortune of being preyed upon by the great white shark stands very little chance of surviving the attack. This animal is No. 1 on our countdown for its remarkable predatory abilities. With its streamlined body and strong jaws, the great white is a powerful animal: a fast swimmer and an agile aquatic acrobat able to leap high out of the water to surprise its prey. The great white shark also has multiple rows of sharp serrated teeth, each being replaced as soon as one is lost. In fact, a single shark can go through more than 50,000 teeth in its lifetime. Great whites typically begin their attacks with a single punishing bite. The shark then waits for its victim to be weakened by the wound before it returns to eat - a technique that allows the predator to feed in relative safety.